Poetry to Colgate’s Ears

Jackie Kepping

On January 29, the Department of English began its lecture series with one of its own esteemed faculty members, Assistant Professor of Creative Writing and English Patrick O’Keeffe. O’Keeffe was born and raised in rural Ireland, and in the mid-1980s, when he was in his twenties, he journeyed to the United States where he worked as a carpenter, bartender and house-painter. When O’Keeffe realized his passion for writing, he pursued his Bachelor’s degree in English at the University of Kentucky, receiving the degree in 1996. O’Keeffe then went on to receive his MFA at the University of Michigan.

O’Keeffe has written various works, including a collection of novellas, The Hill Road, which won the Story Prize in 2005. These short stories are set in rural Ireland and woven together with O’Keeffe’s lyrical writing style and the depiction of a community that must work through life-changing events.

On Thursday, O’Keeffe read an excerpt from work in progress The Moon in Cancer about a homeless man named Walter and an anonymous narrator. When asked about his writing process, O’Keeffe was willing to provide insight.

“It depends on what interests me at the time,” O’Keeffe said. “In this case it was the character. Oftentimes it’s the setting.”

O’Keeffe said that, for this story, he was inspired by a homeless man whom he met while working at a shelter in Michigan. O’Keeffe described how simple gestures and people’s quirks are inspirations upon which he can build a whole character. He remembered how his grandmother always had a spoon in her apron and how he had incorporated that into one of his characters.

“Those images you have in your life, they just stick,” O’Keeffe said. “[I’m] just trying to recreate them, I suppose.”

When an audience member asked how he felt about reading his work, O’Keeffe quickly replied, “I hate it.” The audience laughed for a period until another member of the audience acutely commented on how O’Keeffe’s reading style was very lyrical, reminiscent of an internal monologue and a perfect fit to the story itself. O’Keeffe went on to say that the ear is very important and that the way you hear a story greatly affects your appreciation of it.

Thomas A. Bartlett Chair and Professor of English Jane Pinchin responded to the reading positively.

“Patrick O’Keeffe is the newest member of our English Department, and we are enormously lucky to have him here,” Pinchin said. “The Hill Road is a glorious work that I wish everyone would read. This reading was filled with students, faculty and the Colgate and Hamilton community and was a really terrific time.”